Hope & Coke

As we normally do two or three times a year, we stay in one of our cabins for a weekend getaway. During our most recent getaway, we took advantage of a sunny, albeit a little cold, February Saturday and visited a couple of the sites in Hocking Hills State Park before heading to Vinton County.

In Vinton County, we stopped at Lake Hope State Park for lunch at the brand new lodge. The original lodge sadly burned completely to the ground 7 years ago. After more than a year of construction, the beautiful new lodge was dedicated in January of this year. The dining room in the new lodge is much larger than the old and has a sunny southern exposure and fantastic vista of the lake and surrounding hills through a wall of floor to ceiling windows. A small balcony and lower patio are available for outside dining in warmer months.

The menu at the new lodge is also expanded. The menu offers made from scratch foods using Ohio products with an emphasis on real pit barbeque. Many Ohio made wines and beer are offered as well. The open truss architecture of the main dining room exposes large rough-cut beams constructed from timber cut from nearby Zaleski State Forest. The new lodge offers another much needed dining option for visitors to this part of southeast Ohio. Whether you visit for dinner or an after-hike snack or beverage, we’re sure you’ll enjoy it. Here is their web site for menus and more information: www.lakehopedininglodge.com.

After Lake Hope, we went in a search of the remains of two Iron Age relics: the century-and-half-old Vinton Furnace and Belgian coke ovens in the Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest east of McArthur. The map we had only gave us a general location so it took a bit of searching–we love a challenge! After passing the site a couple times–it’s not visible from the road–we finally zeroed in on the most likely location, parked the car and headed off into the forest. With just a few minutes of walking we hit pay dirt.

Only part of the stack of the old furnace remains but surprisingly a good bit of the main structure of the bank of coke ovens remain intact. Coke produced in the ovens was used to fuel the furnace, which was used for smelting iron. This site is quite remote and interesting to visit. Amateur photographers will surely enjoy capturing the curves, symmetry and textures of the coke ovens and the bricks they are constructed of. If you are interested in the full history of this site, follow this link: http://www.oldeforester.com/Vinton.htm.

To visit this site, take US 50 east out of McArthur for 3 mile and turn right onto Stone Quarry Road. In exactly 2 miles you’ll see an old iron bridge on the right, near the road. Pull off and park here. Walk across the old bridge and in approx. 200 yards you’ll intersect a short loop trail marked by round metal trail markers. You can go either right or left; left to see the coke ovens first or right to the furnace first. A word of warning, Stone Quarry Road is a rough gravel road and muddy during wet weather.

Below are a few pics. Have fun!

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Saltpetre Cave

Salpetre Cave State Nature Preserve is yet another great place in the Hocking Hills to visit should you feel the need to escape the crowds at the state parks. Small in size, only 14 acres, this preserve is undoubtedly large in beauty. In my opinion, this is one of the most fascinating areas to explore in the Hocking Hills for those who are into caves and rocks and just downright interesting geology. This work of Mother Nature is all enveloped in a wonderful hemlock forest and little known to unsuspecting passersby on nearby Big Pine Road.

Multiple recess caves are actually found in the preserve. A couple are well in excess of 100′ feet in depth, making these the deepest recess caves in Ohio. The deep caves are wide and the ceilings several feet high so it is possible to walk the entire depth of each cave. Be sure to take a flashlight. We found cave crickets at the back of the deepest cave. Even on a 25-degree day as when we visited, the temperature deep in the cave was significantly warmer. Saltpetre, used for gun powder, was mined here in the past, hence the name, and can be seen as a white substance on the ceiling of some of the caves.

As mentioned, Saltpetre Cave Nature Preserve is located on Big Pine Road, east of Conkle’s Hollow. I’m not going to disclose the exact location because a permit from ODNR is required before visiting. You’ll receive directions with the permit. It will take a few days to receive a permit so plan ahead. Here is a link to the permit page on ODNR’s web site: http://ohiodnr.com/tabid/1981/Default.aspx.

Below are a few pics that certainly do not do this preserve justice. (Most of the other pics I took during our visit did not turn out too well.)

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